Many Golf Tournament Formats have been invented over the years, some created to even the playing field, some created to speed up play, all of them add to the enjoyment of playing in Golf Tournaments. Most public tournaments use common tournament formats, and the most popular is probably the scramble. 

Why choose a scramble?

The scramble is a great choice when you have an array of levels of golfers, emphasizing the fun aspects of playing, and the removal of stress, as each player does not keep score, and bad shots are not taken into account. This format can usually save time, because bad shots are eliminated, meaning even higher handicap players can play more shots from the middle of the fair way and on the green, instead of hitting out of trees and bunkers all day ( we've all been there and done that ). Since only the best shot from each location is used, players can relax and enjoy themselves, even a high handicap player will hit some good shots, and contribute to the team.

What is a scramble?

A scramble is comprised of 2 or more players, who are playing the hole together, in which they work together, picking the best shot from each location, to score a single score for the team on a given hole. Everyone in the team will hit their first shot, and as a team, the best shot is picked, and everyone picks up their ball, and all play their second shot from the location of the best shot. When the putt falls into the cup, the number of shots is recorded for the player who sunk the putt, and that single score is recorded for the whole team. 

Example of a hole

Hole number 1, a Par 4.

Shot 1: A B C and D all tee off. A hits it in the water, B hits it in the bunker, C hits it short, but in the fairway, D hits it a little right, but in the rough off to the side of the fairway. This hole dog legs to the left, and since C is short, you have a bad angle at the green, so even though D was in the rough, it has a better angle at the green. You mark D's location with a tee, and everyone hits their second shot from a drop / place within a scorecard / club length from the mark ( depending on the tournament rules ).

Shot 2: A hits it long behind the green. B hits it straight but short of the green. C hits in the left hand side green side bunker. D hits their shot fat, and barely goes 20 yards in front of them. B has the best lie, angle to the pin, and less obstacles, so everyone hits their third shot from there.

Shot 3: A C and D miss the green with their pitches, so you decide to play B's ball, 20 ft from the pin. 

Shot 4: A B C and D all putt, and miss. A and D are the closest, just 3 ft from the hole., but they are above the hole, C is 4 ft from the hole, but on the flat, so the fifth shot will be from C's location.

Shot 5: B putts first, and sinks the putt, so the other players do not have to putt. 

A bogey 5 is records on the scorecard, with handicap, that is a net par... and you proceed to the next hole.

Using Handicap in a Scramble

Due to the nature of a scramble, and handicaps for general public golfers being so few and far between, a lot of tournaments will play a scramble without handicap, and prizes / places are decided with Gross ( no handicap ) scores only. That is up to the Tournament itself. Some tournaments will have places for Gross ( no handicap ) and Net ( with handicap ) so teams with and without handicap help can still be rewarded.

When using a handicap for a scramble, it is not the usual sum of all players handicaps. There are several approaches, but most tournaments will defer to a weighted system. Rank a team's players, A B C D where A is the lowest handicap, and D is the highest. Player A gets 20% of their handicap, B gets 15%, C gets 10% and D gets 5%. 

If a player does not have a handicap, you can guestimate one from a players best 2 scores in the last year.

Teams with scratch or near scratch players usually have an advantage, since handicap, if used, is reduced due to the format... and scratch players are required to hit good drives, approaches, chips and putts to maintain their good handicaps. 

Handicap is not a good indicator of a good scramble team member - here is a snippet from Pope of Slope website which explains it very well.

Players that show up without a USGA Handicap Index come without providing any evidence of their skill. What makes the problem even worse is that the term "playing ability" is hard to define in a scramble because USGA Handicap Indexes are based on total hole scores covering 18 holes. There are lots of different ways to develop a 17.0 Handicap Index, for example. You might be a "Wild Willy", who hits the long ball, but without much accuracy and not much finesse in the short game. This is a player who can help his team off the tee, but may not be much use for the rest of the way to the hole. You might be a "Steady Eddy" who hits short, but straight shots and stays out of trouble most of the time, unless there is a long carry over water on a hole. Steady Eddy is a great player to have on a team--after the tee shot has been selected. Most of us might fit better in the category of "Average Andy". We hit some good shots and some bad shots and some of our shots might get used by the team. Whichever category that a player fits into, the USGA Handicap Index is not a great way to determine "playing ability" in a scramble, just because handicaps are based on total scores and not how you got those scores. A scramble is based on the individual components of playing a hole--Driving ability, approach shot ability, and getting up and down, which includes chipping, bunker play and putting.



There are lots of variations of this format, since it is one of the most common formats. Some of the variations have specific names, and others do not. Here are some of the variations that are common for a scramble: 

  • You must use at least 2 or 3 drives from each player over the course of 18 holes
  • If a players drive was used on the last hole, you cannot drive on this hole.
  • If a players shot is used, they may not hit the next shot. 


The scramble is a fun, fast and fair format, and is why most tournaments pick a scramble, or some variation... especially with high handicap ( or no handicap ) players.